I love giving gifts. It fills me with delight to find just the perfect present for someone, something you know they will appreciate and cherish. Gleefully I choose the wrapping paper and ribbon. Putting care and thought into the presentation is part of the gift for me, hopefully making the recipient feel treasured. Birthday, Christmas, and anniversary presents are great, but I do think the best gifts are the unexpected, no occasion, just “saw this and thought of you” gifts.
The giving of gifts has been traced back to primitive caveman culture where it was likely used to show love and affection towards one another. You might have received an unusually shaped rock or a tooth from an animal. Even without frilly wrapping or a gift bag, the sentiment was the same. Someone cares for you.
Mr. Smith and I have selected and given many a birthday and Christmas gift to our three sons over the years, including one present that caused our youngest to yell “It’s not the right one!” on Christmas morning when he was six. He had asked Santa for a boom box (it was the 80s) and Mr. Smith and I had thoughtfully selected a My First Sony version. We had obviously insulted his six-year old aesthetics. The Sony was returned for a shinier, albeit cheaper, model that matched Adam’s Christmas dreams.
At this stage of our lives, much of the fun of gift giving comes from selecting gifts for our grandchildren. But with the fun, comes a sense of responsibility. I want to support the values of their parents, a sentiment my sister strongly disagrees with. She views her grandmother role more as her grandson Sam’s co-conspirator. Not a person who provides the acceptable and safe expected gift, but one that might excite Sam or push him out of his cocoon. She looks for the unusual books and toys. The weirder the better…things that a 9-year old boy can find FUN. Science books about the odd and nasty things, a Magic 8 Ball – every kid needs one – or yet another fabulous stuffed animal that Sam absolutely adores and his parents not so much. Her motto is the gifts are for the child not the parent, so Sam’s secret desires are respected by his offbeat grandmere. Perhaps this is the place to let Jeanne know that when my boys were small, I got to the point if ANYONE gave my kids one more stuffed animal, I couldn’t be held responsible for my behavior!
My grandkids have a lot of “stuff”, a lot of stuff. This worries me some. When I was five years old, my sister was getting married and my Aunt Ruby gave her a wedding shower. At the shower, Aunt Ruby gave me a set of wedding paper dolls. I was surprised and delighted. I still remember the thrill of sorting out the outfits for the bride, bridesmaids and flower girl. I was especially drawn to the flower girl ensemble as I was flower girl at that wedding back in 1960. With the copious number of toys and treats my grandkids have, I wonder if they will have the same enchanting memories as me.
I don’t want to just add to the endless flotsam and jetsam that accumulates in their room, waiting for periodic cleanouts. Early in my tenure as a grandmother, I read a cautionary tale from another grandma. Her grandson had a Matchbox car that he LOVED. He kept his treasure with him and played with it often. Grandma thought if he loved that Matchbox car so much, she’d just get him the deluxe set. The lesson here for me was that once her grandson received the deluxe set, the specialness of his favorite car dimmed, now it was just one of many.
So, what is a grandparent to do? I love hearing the happy squeals of my grandkids as much as the next person. The excited “thank you, thank you, thank you.” Mr. Smith and I will never forget Facetiming with our granddaughter, Emily, when she was opening her birthday gift from us, a box full of Fancy Nancy dress up clothes. She started yelling “Fancy Nancy, Fancy Nancy” as soon as she saw the box beneath the wrapping paper. The dress she was wearing was over her head and off within seconds and she was donning her new dress-up ware. So, I have to remind myself that she doesn’t need a never-ending stream of dress-up accoutrements from a store, she’s pretty happy with some of grandma’s old costume jewelry.
I love the idea of giving experiences, not gifts, but as a long-distance grandparent that is not always easy. Mr. Smith and I have been leaning towards giving the grandkids an individual gift for their birthday and a group gift at Christmas. We’ve given museum memberships and zoo memberships. We bought Christmas concert tickets and attended a children’s concert together one year.
When the grandkids were very young and had no idea they were even getting presents, it was easy to just give a check for their education accounts and maybe a book. That doesn’t work the same when they are six and nine! They have Christmas and birthday lists and know more about what’s out there than their grandpa and me.
We have gotten good at consulting with the parents with regard to birthdays and Christmas, but what about when we go for a visit and it’s not a holiday. There’s still a huge part of me that wants to bring them a gift. I started getting that under control a bit when my son, Emmet, told me no more! Our grandsons love Legos and we were in the habit of taking them a new set whenever we visited. Keeping Emmet’s instructions in mind, on our next visit to the boys, I printed off directions from the Internet on how to build a candy dispenser from Legos you already have. I brought some little bags of Skittles and told the boys if they built the candy dispenser, the Skittles were theirs. They got busy building and it was fun when the dispersers worked and out popped a Skittle! There is a plethora of ideas online of things kids can build from their stash Legos.
I have no guilt bringing them books or craft items. I’ll take a premade kit or gather items needed for an idea I have, and we spend time together figuring it out and constructing things. We’ve made bath bombs, clothes pin dolls, and LOTS of seasonal decorations. A special food project can also be a way to connect without arriving with big gifts for everyone. On my last trip to D.C. I took a little fondue pot and some chocolate. After the fun of watching the chocolate melt, we dipped strawberries and graham crackers in the chocolate and made a wonderful mess!
Since all my grandparents were deceased before I was born, my grandparenting example is my Aunt Ruby. While I don’t remember one specific Christmas or birthday gift that she gave me, I do remember the bride and groom paper dolls and other little treats she gave me along the way because she saw them and thought of me. I do remember being excited to see her each and every holiday we could be together. But in the end, her unconditional love was the best gift I ever received. I hope that is the gift my grandchildren feel I have given them.
On Wednesday’s blog, I’ll tell you about the favorite gift I ever gave someone.
C’est la vie.